Michigan State Earns a One Seed: West Region Thoughts
The West Region is where the S-curve, a tool used to rank the teams from 1 to 68, went to die apparently and that means some tough matchups on the way to New Orleans. Top-seed Michigan State was rewarded for their non-conference slate and winning the Big Ten tournament crown with the fourth number one seed, and while LIU Brooklyn can pose some problems a 16-seed has never beaten a one. Of greater interest is the 8/9 matchup, which consists of a battle between Memphis and Saint Louis.
Rick Majerus is one of the great tacticians in college basketball and it's going to be interesting to see what he put together in the game preparation when it comes to slowing down a Memphis team playing its best basketball of the year. Josh Pastner has an All-America caliber wing in Will Barton, and the move to make Chris Crawford more of a playmaker has both relieved some of the pressure on Joe Jackson and make the Tigers a better team. Either team can win this one, and either team can also reach the Sweet 16.
Memphis has to be considered one of the most underseeded teams in the field, but while they receive a two-seed the Missouri Tigers likely belong in the discussion as well. The selection committee cited their non-conference strength of schedule as the reason why, but if Frank Haith's team is considered to be the weakest two...well, not really sure what to say about that. But the Tigers, who have one of the best backcourts in the country led by Phil Pressey and Marcus Denmon, are more than capable of winning a national title.
Their pod features a seven-seed in Florida that has enough talent to get to New Orleans, provided guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker make sound decisions. One of those would be to make sure that wing Bradley Beal and power forward Patric Young get more touches. Virginia's been hit hard by the injury bug and outside of Mike Scott really aren't playing well, and 15-seed Norfolk State has Kyle O'Quinn but the Tigers should be fine there. And should Missouri reach the Sweet 16, there's a matchup with a similarly-sized power conference team on the horizon.
Three-seed Marquette has seen Chris Otule (torn ACL) go down for the year and Davante Gardner have to deal with a sprained knee, and while that has limited them in the paint Buzz Williams' team did finish second in the Big East. Jae Crowder, Big East Player of the Year, and Darius Johnson-Odom are two big reasons why, but they're going to need improved play from point guard Junior Cadougan in order to go far. They'll get either BYU or Iona on Thursday, and that matchup is the best First Four contest. Can Iona defend well enough to slow down Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock? Can BYU slow down one of the best offenses in the country led by Scott Machado? That's going to be fun to watch.
Also in Louisville is six-seed Murray State, who's led by junior point guard Isaiah Canaan and he's going to be on more than a few All-America teams. They may not be thrilled with their seed but the Racers did draw a similarly-sized team in Colorado State, but don't sleep on Tim Miles' guards either. Jesse Carr, Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green can all get it done, but the most important question for the Rams is the health of wing Greg Smith. He missed the Mountain West tournament with a sprained ankle but has been given a clean bill of health for this week.
The four-seed in the West is Louisville, who likely jumped a couple lines with their winning the Big East Championship. But which team makes the trip out the Portland: the one that struggled with turnovers throughout the regular season, or the one that tightened things up in New York? Either way the Cardinals had better be wary of Davidson, as the Wildcats have a very good frontcourt tandem (De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen) to go along with a very good guard in J.P. Kuhlman.
The 5/12 battle will also be fun to watch as New Mexico, who is playing arguably their best basketball of the season, takes on Long Beach State. The Lobos feature Drew Gordon inside and guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams on the perimeter, but the 49ers can counter with Casper Ware and T.J. Robinson. How well they defend Gordon will be a key factor as will the health of Larry Anderson, who missed the Big West tournament with a knee injury. Michigan State may be on top of the bracket, but there are a number of teams with the talent needed to take them down.
Best second round matchup: Louisville vs. Davidson
G Marcus Denmon (Missouri)
G Casper Ware (Long Beach State)
G Scott Machado (Iona)
F Jae Crowder (Marquette)
F Draymond Green (Michigan State)